Unlike in the 1970s, the huge number of beluga whales in Cook Inlet no longer delights locals and tourists alike. Last year, the number has dwindled to just 278, as estimated last year. But, what is leading to this disappearance of the whales left the scientists puzzled and scared too. To determine if the belugas need the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service is embarking on a status review.
In 2000, scientists blamed over-harvesting for the decline, and a listing was also rejected. But, even years of strict limits on hunting have proved that theory wrong, said Lloyd Lowry, a professor of marine mammals with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He believes that something else is going on, and left the scientists pondering.